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Thermal energy and heat capacity: 2.6 Examples of uses, importance and applications of specific heat capacity data - thermal energy storage systems and energy transfers

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2.6 Applications of specific heat capacity data - examples of thermal energy storage systems - what makes a good thermal energy store and how are they used

The greater the heat capacity of a material, the more heat energy it can hold for a given mass of material.

This means that high heat capacity materials can store lots of energy when heated and can then release a lot if cooled down. In other words, materials with a high specific heat capacity are good for storing heat energy - a good material for a thermal energy store.

Materials used in heaters/heating systems, usually have a high specific heat capacity eg water (SHC H2O = 4180 J/kgoC, very high) is used in central heating systems and is easily pumped around house to distribute lots of heat where needed, an excellent 'mobile' thermal energy store.

Water is also used as a coolant in car engines because it can absorb a lot of thermal energy for a given temperature increase. The thermal energy store of the engine block is reduced and the thermal energy store of the water increased. The thermal energy in the water is then transferred to the surrounding air to increase its thermal energy store via the radiator grill.

The good old fashioned hot water bottle is a nice convenient thermal energy store to heat up the bed.

Concrete (SHC 750-960 J/kgoC, quite high) is used in night storage heaters (using cheap night-time electricity).

The greater the mass of concrete, the greater its rise in temperature rise (safely!) the greater its capacity to store thermal energy, to be later released into the house in daytime..

Oil-filled heaters are used for a small scale heat storage (SHC oil = 900 J/kgoC, not as good as water) but will convect in the oil radiator and steadily release heat.

An archaeological note!

Prehistoric man learned thousands of years ago that hot stone retained a lot of thermal energy.

The heat capacity of natural stone is usually around 840 J/kgoC.

Large stones were heated in a fire and dropped into stone line cooking troughs like the one shown below.

The heat from the thermal energy store of the stone increases the thermal energy store of the cooler water, so boiling the water and cooking food like meat placed in the water filled trough.

It may seem crude, but brass cooking pots were something of a luxury item for many prehistoric people!

This stone cooking trough is by the Bronze age stone circle (shown below) at Drombeg, Co. Cork, Ireland.

Several of them were constructed on this site and fed and connected by a diverted spring stream.

They can be found all over Ireland and the UK, and presumably on continental Europe.

Native American Indians also used the same technique by dropping hot stones into a wooden bowl of food and water.


INDEX for my physics notes on specific heat capacity


Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for using specific heat capacity data

Be able to explain examples of uses and applications of specific heat capacity data e.g. comparing thermal energy storage systems , use of water as a thermal energy store and heat energy transfers between materials.


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